So we finally took our first roadtrip. Considering the Mercedes that husband deemed to be so essential to our German experience wasn’t driven for the entire month of May, it was about time. We chose Hamburg, only about two-hundred and fifty kilometers from Berlin and more or less a straight shot along the autobahn. It’s also a place we know well; husband used to take frequent work trips there and we’ve been there for the Christmas markets the last three years in a row. This includes last December when it was a tack-on to our Berlin “decision trip” and therefore the site of much agonizing, prolonged unexpectedly for three days while Heathrow tried to figure out how to clear six inches of snow from its runways. In other words, we needed to redeem Hamburg.
The journey there was a snap: all blue skies and clear roads along a mostly flat expanse of agricultural land. (The only industry I saw was a Dr. Oetker factory, a company that makes things like frozen pizzas and cake mix. It reminded me of another German brand named after a doctor, Dr. Loosen Riesling. I like how having “Dr.” in the label somehow makes eating pizza and drinking wine seem marginally healthy, like how the British call some cookies “digestives.”) We soon arrived at the Nippon hotel, our normal crash pad and only a few blocks away from the lake, the Aussenalster. We continued as creatures of habit, making our way to our first lakeside beer stop on hotel-lent beach cruiser Schwinns. For our next beer stop we broke ways with the past and explored the River Elbe-adjacent neighborhood of Altona. There’s an historic fish market here, but that starts to wind down at around 7AM so we had to settle for an Irish bar. Doubling back on ourselves we turned into what seemed like a parking lot along the river to investigate the thatched roofs we could see peaking out from behind concrete buildings. Jackpot: StrandPauli beach club, complete with sand, lounge chairs, and piña coladas. It was a little bit of Key West on the docks.
So far this roadtrip thing was working out. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening dropping suggestions for future outings on the autobahn — Saxony Switzerland, Dresden, Prague, Copehagen via Rostock, Bavaria! — into casual conversation without so much as a hint of pushback from husband. Maybe it was just the loveliness of our waterside dinner at Harms & Schacht, a favorite of ours and, I am glad to say, successfully “redeemed” with new good memories after being the official agonizing site over Berlin back in December.
The next morning we took a jog around the Aussenlaster followed by bagels and orange juice at elbgold (home of the best veggie cream cheese ever, E. coli be damned), then headed back to Berlin. Traffic was, well, as you would expect for a Sunday afternoon on the last day of a long holiday weekend. What took us two and a half hours on the way out took four on the way back. Somewhere on a self-styled detour around Neuruppin husband snapped and insisted Germany was “one of the worst countries on the planet.” When I suggested this may be veering towards hyperbole and that I could think of a few other war-torn examples that may give Germany a run for its money in achieving this title, husband accused me of unreasonably defending Germany, like I was “born here or something.” Back in Berlin he blew off steam yelling at Roger Federer in the French Open final and posting things on Facebook about the “lie” of German efficiency. So much for my dreams of a life auf der Autobahn.